The Religious Identity of Young Muslim Women in Berlin
An Ethnographic Study
By Synnøve K.N. Bendixsen
THE RELIGIOUS IDENTITY OF YOUNG MUSLIM WOMEN IN BERLIN
Arriving in Berlin, Germany, in the spring of 2004 for my anthropological fieldwork on youth with immigrant backgrounds, it was impossible to avoid the heated debate about Muslim women in the newspapers, particularly the so-called headscarf debate: should Muslim women be allowed to work as teachers, administrators, or police officers while wearing a veil?
I was struck by the media representation of Muslim women as oppressed, passive, or unwilling to integrate, at the same time as I observed headscarf marches in Berlin and in Paris (January and February 2004) where thousands of young women and men marched for women’s rights to wear the headscarf.1
In my multicultural Berlin neighbourhood of Kreuzberg, I observed groups of young women laughing and chatting playfully at street corners, some with headscarves, others without. “How do they feel about this constant media attention?” I wondered. “What impact do the constant media focus on their well-being and inner thoughts have on their daily life?” “What does it mean to be a young woman Muslim in Berlin today?”
During my fieldwork with Muslim youth, I gradually came to struggle with a situation in which the media depicted Muslim women as submissive and indoctrinated, whereas the Muslim women I knew were making sexual jokes, contemplating which colour of headscarf to wear with what shirt, and reproaching themselves for neglecting certain religious obligations.
The tension between the media representations and my ethnographic experience deepened throughout my fieldwork as I listened to the views the young women themselves had about what they were doing.
The apparently zero-sum affiliations that the media and others constructed between Muslim and German, religious and modern, collective practice or individualization, have guided my fieldwork and theoretical framework.
The emergence, re-emergence, and transformation of religiosity and Islamic identity among young Muslims living in European societies have